Illegal drugs are the main reason most defendants were charged with federal crimes in Oregon, but the charge filed more than any other wasn't a drug offense.
Instead, a charge called illegal re-entry was the top criminal count federal prosecutors filed.
Of 715 defendants charged with federal crimes through Dec. 19, 212 faced illegal re-entry counts, according to court records collected by The Oregonian.
It wasn't always that way. The illegal re-entry cases this year match the total of such cases filed during the eight years from 1986 to 1993.
Still, the number is expected to continue growing, said David Beebe, district director for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service in Portland.
"It's increasing," Beebe said. "We would have even more cases to prosecute successfully if we had more human resources."
The large number of illegal re-entry cases stems from a policy that Kris Olson, U.S. attorney for Oregon, adopted in 1994. Prosecutors in her office file illegal re-entry charges against people who have felony convictions, have been deported and have been arrested again in Oregon on felony charges.
Her office allows most of those defendants to avoid longer prison terms by agreeing to plead guilty and waive their rights to appeal. Most are sentenced to two years in prison.
So what does that have to do with drugs?
Almost all of the illegal re-entry defendants are men who illegally immigrated to the United States from Mexico and were convicted of drug charges in state courts, deported to Mexico and arrested again on drug charges after they returned to Oregon.
Drug investigators estimate that more than 95 percent of the cocaine and heroin in Oregon comes from Mexico after being manufactured there or shipped through there.
On Dec. 16, for instance, U.S. District Judge James A. Redden sentenced Margarito Vargas Vivas to two years in prison after he pleaded guilty to illegally re-entering the United States. Vargas, 31, had been deported in September 1995 after being convicted of selling heroin in Portland.
The same day Redden sentenced Vargas to prison, he sentenced Teresa Mendoza Cruz to one year and nine months in prison. Mendoza, 26, had been deported to Mexico in 1993 and December 1995 after being convicted of heroin charges in Portland.
Some illegal re-entry defendants receive longer prison terms.
On Oct. 22, U.S. District Judge Malcolm F. Marsh sent Martin Meza Sanchez to prison for five years. It was the man's second brush with the judge. In 1992, Marsh sent Meza to prison on an earlier illegal re-entry case. But Meza, 34, was arrested in Salem only two months after he was deported to Mexico in May 1994.
On Friday, Marsh sentenced another man, Simon Rios Estrada, to five years in prison. Rios, 30, had been deported six times and has an extensive criminal history, Assistant U.S. Attorney Johnathan Haub said.
Federal Crime Cases
More than half of the 715 defendants charged with federal crimes in Oregon this year were charged with drug offenses or illegally re-entering the country after being deported. Through Dec. 19, the defendants in Portland and Eugene were charged in these types of cases:
Illegal re-entry 212 Drugs 174 Bank robbery 70 Firearms offenses 45 Fraud 33 Probation transfers from other districts 23 Bank embezzlement/larceny 18 Mail theft/possession of stolen mail 14 Escape 11 Theft of government property 11 Other* 104 Source: Court records. * Includes tax offenses, timber theft, arson, perjury, food stamp theft, etc.
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